Inspiring Future Generations of Engineers

McMillan and Weiner talk about Ways Our Young Generations Have Been Inspired to Join the Automation Industry

By Greg McMillan and Stan Weiner

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Greg: What shouldn't people do when speaking to a class about engineering as a possible profession?

Hunter: You don't want an engineer coming in and talking to his shoes about technical details. Make the topic fun and interesting!

I love talking at the "career nights." I bring in radio-controlled airplanes, chemical magic tricks and Tesla coils to show how fascinating engineering can be. I also point out that everything in the room is "engineered." From the clothes they wear to the desks they sit at to the walls and ceiling above them, all are designed and built by equipment created by engineers. And of course the pay isn't bad either!

Stan: What have you seen as a result?

Hunter: I have been amazed at the number of kids who have come up years later fondly remembering the presentations I had done and telling me how it got them started down a technical career path. And the cycle continues. Even though both of my sons have moved into high school and college, I am still asked by teachers to present to their classrooms. And even my boys are starting to do presentations of their own as part of their community service projects.

Greg: You called me in Austin from Dallas about a possible get-together. You said you were doing something with FIRST Robotics contestants. How did you get started in this program?

Hunter: The ISA president, at the end of his address to ISA Automation Week 2011, said that a FIRST team in a Dallas Robot Challenge had their tools stolen right before the start of the season's competition. I offered to help, and to make sure the money was most effectively used, I set up an account at a local hardware store to let the team buy what they needed. (The store offered the team a discount rate and partially matched my donation.)

The team invited me to join them at the Texas regional competition in Dallas, where I found myself rolling up my sleeves and working with the students to fine-tune a robot that could shoot basketballs. They did not realize there was a weight limit, so the robot had to be redesigned on the spot.

Radical changes were made to the whole structure. Also, a lot of gearing was wearing out, and motors were burning out because of all the shooting needed for the extensive judging during the competition. Despite it all, the team did quite well, and I have to say it was a very fun time.

Greg: The key to promoting our profession is communication. We need to trigger a fascination with the "why and how." Once in the profession, we need communication to make the most of our talents. For what we have learned from the ISA Mentor program, check out the August 2013 Control article, "Process Automation Generations Talk to Each Other," and the January/February 2013 InTech article, "Enabling New Automation Engineers."

"Top Twenty Reasons to Become an Engineer"

20) There are a lot of things that need fixing – bridges, tax codes, government policy...
19) You can wear what you want – nobody expects an engineer to follow fashion trends.
18) You'll always have the best computer, largest tool collection, and a running car.
17) Neighbors reward you for fixing their stuff with free meals and beer.
16) Your kid's math homework questions are no problem.
15) Unlike most majors, finding a job is never an issue.
14) You get to play with really cool gadgets and get paid for it.
13) We have WAY too many lawyers and politicians already!
12) As an engineer you will never have to ask any one if they want fries with that.
11) Postmodern Russian literature sounds impressive, but no one will pay you for that expertise.
10) "Engineer" is easier to spell than astrophysicist.
9) If you are too sane to become a psychologist, then become an engineer.
8) Don't forget Robot Wars!
7) Engineers can beat up most drama majors.
6) Doctors work with gooier parts.
5) If all else fails, you can build a date!
4) Accountants only get to play with other people's money.
3) The coffee pot is always hot and if it is not then you can fix it.
2) McDonalds employs more marine biologists then engineers.
1) You get to wear the striped hat and drive the train.

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